Why Ukraine Must Bargain for Peace With Russia – 2
Russia Ukraine EU
foreignpolicy.com bssb.be 09.12.2014
So, from an economic standpoint alone, a lasting political settlement between Moscow and Kiev is clearly necessary. So why isn’t a process to make one happen even on the agenda?
On one level, the answer is straightforward: Key conditions needed for a productive conflict resolution process are utterly absent. These include some overlap in the parties’ goals, allowing for a potential negotiated outcome that all sides can claim as a victory; a degree of flexibility in negotiating positions; an overriding shared interest in getting a deal; and domestic support for compromise.
Let’s examine the parties’ goals. There has been a lot of speculation about Russia’s aims in Ukraine, ranging from accusations of new Anschluss to allegations of a manufactured war intended to boost domestic approval ratings.
But actually, Moscow’s objectives were made clear very early in the crisis: On March 15, the day before the so-called “referendum” in Crimea, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov handed U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry a draft text of a “Friends of Ukraine” international action plan.
The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs published the proposal online two days later. The key demands in the document are neutrality, nonexclusive geoeconomic arrangements, and decentralization of authority from Kiev to the regions.
What about the Ukrainian and Western goals? Nominally, the EU-U.S. strategic goal for Ukraine, shared by the current government in Kiev, is both straightforward and breathtakingly ambitious: to create a Western-oriented, Western-integrated, prosperous, territorially integral, secure, and democratic Ukraine.
This examination of the parties’ goals paints a rather bleak picture. The goals of the parties to any future settlement to this crisis have only one thing in common: Achieving one side’s goals necessarily entails undermining the other side’s.
Meanwhile, Russian and Ukrainian leaders are preparing their publics for confrontation, not compromise.
Russian and Ukrainian leaders are preparing their publics for confrontation, not compromise.
As Poroshenko recently tweeted, “We are prepared for a scenario of total war.” Moreover, in Ukraine, compromise with Russia is nearly akin to treason. While talking to Kiev is not as taboo in Moscow, it would be politically impossible for any Russian government, and particularly Putin’s government, to be seen to have “lost” in what is portrayed there as a battle for Ukraine.
If we imagine a negotiation between Putin and Poroshenko conducted in a political vacuum, without the historical legacy of the EU association process, the war, the Crimea annexation, etc., it is not inconceivable that they could reach a deal.
The contours of the compromise would likely include: reaffirmation of the reality of Ukraine’s nonalignment; mutually satisfactory trade arrangements among Russia, Ukraine, and the EU; implementation of a decentralization plan somewhat more ambitious than Poroshenko’s June proposals, but significantly less far-reaching than Russia’s March proposals; a return of full Ukrainian control over its border with Russia, perhaps with an international peacekeeping force on the ground in the Donbas; and so on.
The events of the past year, particularly Russia’s brazen actions in Ukraine, make this scenario seem more like a fairy tale than a historical counterfactual.
The problem for Ukraine and its Western partners is that the Kremlin does not need a deal to achieve its baseline objectives in this conflict. It could do so by bringing Ukraine to its knees economically or by continuing to sow instability in the east of the country, which effectively makes it impossible for the government in Kiev to pursue Putin’s nightmare of a Ukraine in NATO and the EU.
Moscow would prefer a negotiated settlement over these scenarios, if only because it would be far less costly. But it does not need one. The same cannot be said for Ukraine.
Notwithstanding Kiev’s sometimes triumphalist rhetoric, Ukraine clearly needs a deal.
For Western policymakers, it is this factor — Russia’s strong bargaining position, relative to both Ukraine and the West — that ultimately makes this crisis so different from others in the post-Cold War period. Never before have they faced a major nuclear power as an adversary in a regional dispute occurring in that power’s backyard. In Kosovo, Russia was an opponent, but Kosovo barely registered in the hierarchy of Russian national security imperatives.
Ukraine, by contrast, ranks just short of national survival. And eastern Ukraine is one of a few places beyond Russia’s borders in which Moscow can deliver the assets required to sustain an insurgency. Even if it were to receive the much-ballyhooed lethal military assistance from the United States, Ukraine cannot defeat such an insurgency if Russia remains determined to prevent it from doing so.
In all the bad news about the breakdown of the Minsk agreements in recent weeks, it’s easy to miss the silver lining. First, Putin and Poroshenko demonstrated that they could in fact negotiate a deal; apparently, they hammered out the parameters of what became the first Minsk agreement through direct talks.
That two countries embroiled in a bitter conflict would have difficulty implementing their first attempt at a negotiated settlement should be no surprise; it would have been truly shocking if they had succeeded to go from war to partnership overnight.
Second, despite all the public rancor, joint work on some Minsk-related activities continues: A Joint Center for Control and Coordination, manned by Russian and Ukrainian military officers, continues to demarcate the line of contact and facilitate the cease-fire.
The challenge for the West is to couple support for Ukraine with a diplomatic strategy to help Kiev build on the remnants of Minsk to achieve broader and better-functioning arrangements with Moscow in order to de-escalate this crisis.
The United States should be encouraging and facilitating talks with just as much, if not more, gusto as it delivers military assistance. Constructive involvement and advice from senior U.S. diplomats might have led to a more robust first attempt than the Minsk agreements. But thus far Washington seems more interested in delivering body armor than deploying special envoys.
Showing up in Kiev with a public emphasis on encouraging Ukraine to make a new deal with Russia would have been politically impossible for the U.S. vice president. So let’s hope that the radar airdrop gave Biden the leverage to be his usual blunt self during his closed-door meetings with Ukraine’s leaders. For Ukraine to survive this crisis, it needs a settlement. There is no alternative.
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